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Warning over Lords amendments to data protection legislation

John Whittingdale said the Government was “absolutely right” not to go ahead with the second part of the Leveson Inquiry.

“Damaging” amendments to data protection legislation by peers would have a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism and make it impossible for publishers to expose scandals such as the Oxfam sex abuse claims, a former culture secretary has said.

John Whittingdale said the Data Protection Bill, due to be debated in the House of Commons on Monday, had been “hijacked” in the House of Lords, to include provisions which would threaten the freedom of the press.

It comes after the Government announced it was ditching the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, and said it would not put into effect a controversial measure which would have required media organisations to sign up to a state-backed regulator or risk having to pay legal costs in both sides of a libel case, even if they won.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Tory MP Mr Whittingdale, culture secretary from 2015-16, described a similar measure for data protection cases, an amendment to the Data Protection Bill introduced by the Lords, as “damaging”.

He said: “It would have a massive and chilling effect on investigative journalism and would make investigations such as those into the Paradise Papers or the Oxfam scandal impossible to publish.

“These provisions are draconian, unnecessary and very possibly in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

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Sir Brian Leveson chaired the first part of the Leveson Inquiry (PA)

He also said the Government was “absolutely right” not to press ahead with Leveson II, which was due to look into unlawful conduct within media organisations as well as relations between police and the press.

He said: “There is no need to rake over once again the events of a decade ago at great cost, particularly when the media landscape has changed so dramatically.

“A further Leveson Inquiry would not even cover the increasingly powerful news providers which are online and almost entirely unregulated.”

The decision not to go ahead with the second part of Leveson was described by Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tom Watson as “a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said the Government will seek to overturn the House of Lords votes for tighter regulation of the media.

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